Israeli doctors lament lack of protection, exposing them and patients to virus
Tel Aviv hospital says another doctor diagnosed with virus

Israeli doctors lament lack of protection, exposing them and patients to virus

Senior Health Ministry official blasts office for ill-preparedness; some 2,600 medical professionals in quarantine; masks, protective suits said stolen from hospitals

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

An ambulance carrying an Israeli man who returned from Italy and tested positive for coronavirus arrives at Tel Hashomer Hospital, February 27, 2020 (Flash 90)
An ambulance carrying an Israeli man who returned from Italy and tested positive for coronavirus arrives at Tel Hashomer Hospital, February 27, 2020 (Flash 90)

Doctors and nurses across the country were lamenting on Monday the lack of protective gear available, saying the shortage was exposing them and their patients to the coronavirus.

The head of the Mirsham association for medical interns, Rey Biton, wrote in a statement that due to the “failures” that have taken place, “entire wards have been closed, vital medical teams have gone into quarantine, and our most valuable resources, doctors, are going to waste.”

“Many interns fear examining patients and justifiably fear for their own safety and the safety of their families. They feel abandoned on the battlefield without the tools necessary to fight and beat the virus,” added Biton.

She called on the Health Ministry to make it obligatory to use proper protective gear when examining patients showing symptoms of the virus.

A nurse in central Israel requesting anonymity told the Kan public broadcaster that there was a shortage of masks in her hospital and that medical staff there have been told to suffice with washing their hands.

ILLUSTRATIVE — A man having a fever test as he arrives to enter the Hadassah Ein Karem hospital, in Jerusalem, on September 3, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A doctor from northern Israel, also speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Kan that he had written a letter to the head of his department warning him that if any of his fellow doctors contract the virus, they’ll have to shut down the entire ward. He urged his superior to institute emergency protocols in order to protect doctors and patients.

A senior Health Ministry official blasted the conduct of his office on the issue during an interview with the Walla news site. “What exactly has the Health Ministry been doing all these years if not preparing for something like this?”

“Yes, you might not have been able to exactly predict this coronavirus, but know that there are pandemics. There just recently had been a measles outbreak,” he argued.

Israeli Medical Association chairman Zion Hagay said in a statement Monday that he had spoken with Health Ministry director Moshe Bar Siman-Tov, who assured him that there would soon be a delivery of equipment to all hospitals thanks to a large shipment coming in from South Africa.

Hagay reported that emergency room doctors were low on masks, which need to be replaced after two hours of use. He also said that a large number of masks and protective suits had been stolen from hospitals across the country.

The Health Ministry in response to the criticism said in a statement: “We are in constant contact with [the country’s] medical staff and are equipping them with additional protective gear.”

Illustrative: Workers inside a building at Tel Aviv’s Tel Hashomer Hospital, which was converted into a coronavirus isolation unit, February 20, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital announced Monday that another doctor had been diagnosed with the coronavirus, and that as a result, 40 staff members were in isolation.

Medical personnel make up at least 19 of the 250 coronavirus cases in the country. There are said to be over 2,600 medical staff in quarantine.

In addition, the Health Ministry’s central virus laboratory was forced to shut down on Sunday after the deputy director there contracted COVID-19. Epidemiology officials were working to determine whether she had caught the virus in the lab, but all other workers have been placed in isolation in the meantime.

Some 400 tests are performed at the laboratory each day, and its closure could have a major impact on the ongoing fight against the spread of the virus.

Also on Sunday, a department head at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv was diagnosed with COVID-19.

All staff who came in contact with her, as well as patients who were exposed to her recently, including those who had already been released from the hospital, have been quarantined. The patients who were still being treated in the hospital when the case was diagnosed were moved to a more isolated ward.

None of the doctor’s patients at the hospital were known to have the disease before her diagnosis, raising speculation that she was infected by a family member, Channel 12 reported, citing hospital sources.

The Health Ministry said on Monday morning that an additional 37 cases of coronavirus had been recorded in Israel, bringing the total number up to 250.

An ambulance carrying an Israeli man who returned from Italy and tested positive for coronavirus arrives at Tel Hashomer Hospital, February 27, 2020 (Flash 90)

Over 90 percent of those who have been infected with the disease — 228 out of 250 — have light symptoms, while 13 people are in moderate condition and five are seriously ill, the ministry said. Another four people no longer display any symptoms and are recuperating, according to the ministry.

The developments came as over the weekend the government ordered strict measures aimed at curbing a spread of the virus, with gatherings in enclosed areas limited to no more than 10 people and and leisure sites across the country closed down. Schools, universities, kindergartens and daycare centers have also been shuttered.

In all, nearly 40,000 Israelis were in home quarantine for fear of exposure to the virus, including nearly 1,000 doctors, more than 600 nurses, 170 paramedics, and 80 pharmacists, according to Health Ministry figures. Health officials have conducted over 6,800 coronavirus tests nationwide so far, according to the ministry.

To curb the spread of the virus in the country, all Israelis returning from overseas are required to quarantine at home for 14 days. Non-Israeli nationals were barred from entering the country as of March 12, unless they can demonstrate an ability to self-quarantine for two weeks.

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